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Book Review: Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn, by Amira El-Zein

By: A. W. Finnegan

This was a truly commendable work on a most fascinating, intriguing topic – the concept of the jinn, and its place within Islam, written by Amira El-Zein, an associate professor of Arabic literature with Georgetown University in Qatar. This may be one of the most respectable works on the jinn currently available in English. This work centers its discussion of the jinn upon its place within the three layers of classical Islam, that is, orthodox Islam, folk or popular Islam, and Sufism, which is mystical Islam, or the esoteric philosophy within Islamic thought.

Each chapter is centered on particular aspects or themes within the topic of the jinn. She also considers a close reading of the original texts, contemplating their exoteric and esoteric meaning. This then paves the way for even higher learning, the symbols contained in the original texts. Finally, she takes a look at the universal patterns to the particular ones in classical Islam. In this sense, the author compiled what she described as “The Golden Bough” of the jinn:

…all through this research, I have intentionally chosen to enrich the study with an abundance of stories, gathered from multilingual sources and tens of thousands of pages to create a rare Golden Bough of the jinn.

This site has already been covering the content in The Golden Bough, a compendium on the history of magic and religion across many cultures and periods of history. However, I think in this case, what makes Amira El-Zein’s study of the jinn stand apart from Sir James Frazer’s Golden Bough, is that she considers the existence of the jinn as a reality, as it is true that one can’t be Muslim without acknowledging their existence, since the Qur’an is addressed to both humans and jinn. Frazer, on the other hand, tended to dismiss the substance of his studies as mere superstitions and failed to give much consideration to the spiritual realities in his subject because he analyzed it through the lens of reason, science, and Darwinian evolution. It is refreshing to see that Amira El-Zein took a more noble approach in her study of the jinn:

My analysis is certainly more phenomenological than historical. I have decided to look at the concept of the jinn with an open mind and with empathy, letting the sources unfold their meanings.

Finding quality information on the jinn and traversing its landscape has not been an easy task, since so much of the literature available on the jinn does little to portray them accurately or fairly, and instead degrades them all as evil, malicious beings that are out to torment the human race and lead them astray. On top of this, the information of value is scattered across the literature, a sentence or two here or there, often in obscure texts across different languages. Amira El-Zein put together one of the few quality works available to Westerners on the jinn, and to understand the jinn, she demonstrates that one must also understand its place within Islam and the Qur’an. She also sought to equally enlighten us to some of the realities and spiritual substance of Islam, beyond the Western misconceptions and stereotypes that surround it.

The table of contents lists the themes of each chapter, and weaves the other elements of her approach within each theme or chapter:

1. The Poetics of the Invisible: Muslim Imagination and the Jinn

The first chapter is an enlightening look at the Imaginal realm from an Islamic point of view, and its importance in understanding both Islam as well as the jinn. This looks at what is termed the hierarchy of the cosmos and their dynamic regions constantly intermingling, being the material or terrestrial realm, the imaginal realm, and the celestial realm. The imaginal realm is the intermediate realm, and it is believed this is where the jinn originate. However, imaginal is not the same as the Western concept of imaginary, because imaginary implies that it is unreal or in the realm of fantasy. She illustrates beautifully the concept of the macrocosm and microcosm and its relationship to the jinn:

To grasp how the jinn could impinge upon our physical plane, as classical Islam claims, it is essential to go back to the Islamic cosmological view at that point in time. The texts of Muslim medieval scholars evoke a constant interaction and an incessant communication between the macrocosm (cosmos) and the microcosm (the human being). They maintain there are eternal laws of correspondences and analogies that govern these relations. By correspondences and analogies, they mean the same hierarchical structure is valid for both the cosmos and the human. Indeed, both possess a similar tripartite division that rejects the Cartesian dualistic perspective of soul versus body.49 “The distinction made between spirit, soul, and body has been applied to the macrocosm as well as to the microcosm. This is hardly surprising if we consider that the constitution of the one is by definition analogous to the constitution of the other, meaning that we are bound to come across elements in either macrocosm or microcosm which correspond exactly to the elements in the other.”50

Moreover, to each of the three realms in the cosmos, there is an equivalent organ of knowledge in the human. Thus, sense corresponds to the terrestrial, imagination to the imaginal realm, as we have seen, and intellect to the celestial realm.

What is the relevance of these correspondences to the jinn’s concept? They indicate the jinn, who are believed in Islam to be part of the Creation, and dwellers of the imaginal, interrelate with us. Like everything in the macrocosm, they infiltrate our world. On the other hand, we too are not isolated beings; we interact with all elements of the cosmos, including the jinn. Together, we nurture the round of energy that is life, and are nurtured by it in return.

She goes into many deep concepts of Islamic cosmology and the idea of presential knowledge which she defines, “Presential knowledge involves unity between knowledge, subject, and object, the three referring to the same reality.” She closes this very deep and enlightening chapter with the following consideration:

Through presential knowledge, one could undertake the journey to the imaginal realm of the jinn without recourse to a polytheist view of things as Hillman suggests. It should be noted here that when Muslim theosophists say knowledge coincides with life, they don’t mean one is invited to a literal interpretation of this hierarchical universe with its beings. On the contrary, when one succeeds to live the inseparability of natural conscience and human conscience, one experiences the most stunning openness of mind, heart, and spirit, which allows him/her to comprehend these most complex and intriguing correspondences between humans and jinn as classical Islam expounded them, and which I shall explore in the following chapter.

2. Correspondences Between Jinn and Humans

In this chapter, the author builds on the material from the first chapter and goes deeper into the Islamic view of the hierarchy of the cosmos, with the imaginal realm just above the terrestrial realm while constantly intermingling and interacting with the it. She mentions the fact that chapter 55 of the Qur’an is addressed to both humans and jinn, where the phrase is repeated often, “O which of your Lord’s bounties will you [humans] and you [jinn] deny?” and with the following describes their ability to reason and demonstrate free will to use it:

Jinn are addressed in the Qur’an as nations endowed with rational faculties.1 Jinn and humans have mental faculties that allow them to access knowledge, perceive the truth, and distinguish them from all other living beings in the universe. These two intelligent species are described as discerning the Word of God through reasoning, while the rest of Creation grasps it instinctively.

She explains some of the shared features between jinn and humans, being that a) both are responsible, b) prophets and messengers of God were sent to humans and jinn, c) Jinn and humans are formed of nations, d) both have different creeds and beliefs, d) Jinn and humans worship God, e) Shared limitations before the Creator, f) Jinn and humans both capable of evil, g) both jinn and humans are said to face judgement by God in the Afterlife, h) The Antichrist figure prophesized about could be either a human or a jinni. She went into more detailed descriptions regarding each of these similarities.

Some highlights from among these similarities showing humans and jinn worshipped the Creator inherently, and from my own interpretation, I would say they do so by following Divine law:

There is a strong belief among Muslims all inanimate things and all animate creatures in the universe worship God innately, and unremittingly glorify him, as in Qur’an 17:45*: “The seven heavens and the earth and everyone in them glorify Him. There is nothing which does not glorify Him in praise, but you do not understand their glorification.” And as in Qur’an 13:15: “To God bow all who are in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly, as do their shadows also in the mornings and the evenings.” Muslims maintain each heavenly body, mountain, tree, animal, and living being exalts the Divine relentlessly, each in its own language and in its own mode. When the Creation adores intrinsically the Divine, it is believed it is simultaneously engaging in an act of knowledge of him. This is how the dialogue between God and his creation flows.18

Because humans and jinn are intelligent species, they could have knowledge of God through reason and intuition as well as through worship. Through their adoration, each has access in a specific and unique manner to his hidden qualities that become manifest to the faithful among them. As stated in the Qur’an, “I only created jinn and men to worship Me” (Qur’an 51:56*).

She also demonstrates what differentiated the jinn from the humans, according to the literature, and that was the fact that the jinn were not visible to humans, while humans were visible to the jinn. However, there are instances where they are able to unveil themselves to their human counterparts:

Al-Suhrawardi (d. 1191), claims jinn themselves have tried to inform humans how to see them. In one of his Mystical Treatises, a king of the jinn advises humans to “put a bit of incense on the fire and throw away everything in the house that is made of iron, is comprised of the seven bodies or makes a noise.”39 Because the jinni is an inhabitant of the invisible world, he invites the human to release the environment from all kinds of “weightiness” or substances symbolized by the metal iron, and create instead a space of emptiness for the purpose of “channeling” with him. And finally, to celebrate his “visibility” in front of a human, he asks that incense be thrown on the fire.

Finally, the folkloric medieval interpretation is epitomized in many stories of The Nights. In the story of “The Fisherman and the Jinni,” for example, the jinni makes himself visible to humans by going into a “smoky” phase: “For a long time, the smoke kept rising from the jar; then it gathered and took shape, and suddenly it shook and there stood a jinni, with his feet on the ground and his head in the clouds.”40 To return back to the jar where he was before, “the jinni shook himself and turned into smoke, which rose, little by little, and began to enter the jar.”41

The next section of this chapter discusses human superiority over the jinn, which could be argued that while the two were not equal, each had their respective strengths and weaknesses, that the jinn had many powers not held by the human, while humans had some not held by the jinn. She presented that Muslim scholars argued the superiority of the humans over the jinn, and at least were God’s most prized creation thus far.

3. Beings of Light and of Fire

The third chapter takes a look at what the jinn are and what they are composed of. She opens with the following quote from Sufi mystic Ibn ‘Arabi, that “Angels are souls blown into lights, jinn are souls blown into winds, and human beings are souls blown into shapes.” She opens the chapter with the following passage:

In many instances, the Qur’an mentions the elements from which the jinn are composed: “Surely, We created mankind of a clay of mud molded, and the jinn created We before of scorching winds” (Qur’an 15:26–27). In addition to the wind, the Qur’an cites the “smokeless fire” mentioned in Qur’an 55:14–15. It is characterized by a brilliant flame of very high intensity mixed with smoldering wind and has a special Arabic name, marij, which means “mixed with.”1 It is almost as if the jinn were composed of hell itself or are a living hell, as many Muslim scholars pictured them. They found them fascinating beings but repugnant at the same time because they evoke hell.2 Muslim medieval scholars asserted the jinn could literally kill because of their dangerous composition. They emphasized heat is an attribute of fire and a vehicle for passions.3 They ascribed to the jinn strong feelings and immense emotional powers as well as rationality, as we have seen before.

The chapter describes jinn being mainly composed of the elements fire and air (wind), sometimes it is said together that the jinn were made from scorching winds. She describes very beautifully the composition and nature of the jinn:

The jinn are subtle and secret beings whose extremely refined elements veil them from us, fire being a pure energy, and wind being the vital breath of the universe, the vehicle of light par excellence and of the invisible; it is that which we feel around us without being able to touch, almost an intelligent power that appears to direct things. In approximately all traditions across the world, wind represents the ineffable; a force we cannot apprehend by the senses alone, but still has an undeniable existence. It is a spiritual power that dwells in the human and outside of him as well. Fire often has been pictured as a fierce beast. The Egyptians, for example, said it is a voracious, ravenous animal that gulps down everything in its way.7

Across traditions fire is linked to the dragon known to be a fire-breathing beast. It also was thought every hundred years the phoenix smeared its wings with myrrh and burst into flames, only to rejuvenate itself from the ashes of the fire to live anew. Hence, fire is an ambiguous symbol of birth and destruction, a manifest element to the eye, while wind remains ineffable, unseen, and subtle. In Hinduism, fire is the power of annihilation exerted by the Indian god, Shiva. In Pythagorean thought, it is the first element in creation. In Zoroastrianism, fire symbolizes the energy of the Creator, which is glowing, unpolluted, and life supporting; Zoroastrians usually pray in front of some form of fire or light. As a religion of synthesis, Islam integrated in its concept of the jinn the many ancient symbols of air and fire that existed in the traditions before it.

The next section of the chapter discusses the jinn and angels along with demons in the pre-Islamic period. Confusion has surrounded it, because the term jinn used to be a blanket term to describe any being that is unseen, which included angels and demons. Also discussed the comparison of jinn to the Roman genii, among other spiritual entities that were worshipped as deities and gods.

In Islam, the relationship between jinn and angels started at the beginning of time, when the jinn were sent to Earth by the Creator to build and prosper. The story of their creation before humans is mentioned in the Qur’an, “whereas the jinn We have created, long before that, out of the fire of scorching winds” (Qur’an 15:27*).

When ‘Ali ibn abi Taleb, the Prophet’s son-in-law and the fourth caliph (d. 661), was once asked whether there were people dwelling on Earth before Adam, he replied: “Yes. God created the earth and created in it nations of jinn who praised Him and glorified Him without interruption. They often used to fly to heavens, and meet with the angels and salute them, and learn from them good things as well as the events that were occurring there. Then they were expelled from the earth because they rebelled and shed blood and ignored God.”32 In fact, in medieval Muslim narratives, the jinn are named “the Pre-Adamites.” The same pattern is repeated in all these sources time and again: the jinn rebelled, spread corruption on Earth, and rejected the laws of the prophets who came to them. Then God sent his army of angels to expel them from Earth and fierce and violent struggles occurred between jinn and angels. A legion of angels equipped with swords or spears, with an angel named al-Harith33 at their head, came down to Earth to fight the jinn. They attacked them with fire billowing out of their mouths and the jinn resisted vigorously. Finally, after intense fighting, the angels won, and the jinn were defeated. God Almighty hurled on them a fire that burned them, and a wind that blew them away, banishing them to the seas.34

This is essentially the idea, that the jinn were created as a prototype or test run, and when the jinn began to ignore God, there came a point where God had them expelled and created the human race to be the new vice-regents of earth. It sounds eerily similar to the way humans are acting today, and it would not be surprising to see the story go that humans are also to be replaced in the hopes to build a more refined race of beings that did live by and praise God, or live by the Divine Laws of the Universe.

The next section describes angels more definitively, while showing the difference between the jinn, as angels being composed of light and no free will, they were said to be completely subservient to God.

Following this section comes a section on Iblis, the Islamic version of Satan, and it is said that Iblis was at one time an angel who rebelled like Lucifer in the Christian religion, while other sources refute this and maintain he was one of the jinn.

She also illustrates the correspondences or similarities between angels and jinn, being that a) both are invisible, b) both are disembodied spirits c) both are luminous beings, d) both are shape-shifters, e) both are non-compounded beings, and f) both came to earth. In contrast, she also compares their differences, being a) sharing different geographies, b) angels are represented with wings while jinn are not, c) they exhibit different powers, d) angels are immortal, while jinn have a long lifespan but eventually die, and e) they have different abilities.

Finally, the chapter is closed reminding us that in the split between the angels and jinn, the new separation does not mean that the jinn are to be demonized, since they are capable of good as well as evil:

By prohibiting the jinn from climbing to heavens, Islam consecrated the severance of beings of light from beings of fire, highlighted the hierarchical structure of the cosmos, and stressed that jinn are not allowed to trespass the celestial domain of the angels above them. Islam, thus, emphasized the sublunary position of the jinn and stressed the immortal and pure light of the angels.

By degrading the jinn, Islam didn’t, however, demonize them or oppose them to angels because it clarified jinn could be good or bad like humans. The most significant consequence of this new repartition of spiritual beings was Muslims should mainly understand the jinn through the lens of cosmology, which opened wide the doors to a deep interpretation of things beyond the simple contrast of evil versus good.

4. Divination, Revelation, and the Jinn

In the fourth chapter we come to the subject of divination, revelation and the jinn. This involves obtaining information not accessible by ordinary means through invisible or supernatural powers. She describes the Eastern traditions and pre-Islamic practices of divination, basically showing this was a widespread practice, where seers were held in high regard. Some viewed the seer through their connection to their personal jinni, who was said to bring the inspiration or divination. Mentioned in this respect are the Greek and Roman daemon or genii, who are said to be jinn. The Greeks and Romans put a lot of emphasis on these practices of divination, and the daemon or genii served to assist the seers at the temples, such as the Temple of Apollo, the Oracles of Delphi.

The author also describes the process of revelation, which in Islam superseded divination. In divination, the supernatural beings could travel to the heavens to fetch news and information, but after Islam, the heaven’s were said to be closed off to the jinni and other beings, and that those that tried were met with shooting stars and meteors that prevented them from doing so. In the new religion, God’s revelations would only be given to prophets and those chosen to receive God’s instructions through the angels like, for example, Muhammed’s revelations given to him by the archangel Gabriel. She shows the harsh resistance that Islam was met with in the beginning phases and show how the Meccans and pre-Islamic Arabians thought Muhammed was just a poet possessed by a jinni, as some of the verses of the Qur’an are in rhymed prose. Shown here is also the difference between poetical inspiration and revelation, the former using imagination, while the latter is recounting a dream vision or encounter with an angel. It discusses briefly the experiences of revelation received by Muhammed.

The next section takes a look at the prophet Muhammed’s encounters with the jinn, and it is debated whether that he could see them visibly or only hear them. It describes two encounters of Muhammed with the jinn. In the first encounter, it was in the search to find the reason why the heavens were guarded by meteors and shooting stars and closed off to the jinn. They heard Muhammed reciting the Qur’an and went to warn the rest of the jinn about it:

And when We turned to thee a company of jinn giving ear to the Qur’an; and when they were in its presence they said, “Be silent!” Then, when it was finished, they turned back to their people, warning. They said, “Our people, we have heard a Book that was sent down after Moses, confirming what was before it, guiding to the truth and to a straight path.”

The second encounter is also described, in which Muhammed went into the wilderness and recited the Qur’an to crowds of jinn. Zubayr ibn al-’Awwam, one of the ten companions of the Prophet who was promised paradise, describes the experience in the following passage:

“Which of you will follow me to a delegation of the jinn tonight?” But the people kept silent and no one said a word. He asked it three times, then he walked past me and took me by the hand, and I walked with him until all the mountains of Madinah were distant from us and we had reached open country. And there we encountered men, tall as lances, completely wrapped in their mantles from their feet up. When I saw them, a great quivering seized me, until my feet would hardly support me from fear. When we came close to them, the Prophet drew a line for me on the ground with his big toe and said: “Sit in the middle of that.” When I sat down, all the fear I had felt before left me. The Prophet passed between them and me, and recited the Qur’an in a loud voice until dawn. Then he walked past me and said: “Take hold of me.” So I walked with him, and we went a little distance. Then he said to me: “Turn and look. Do you see anyone where these were?” I turned and said: “O Apostle of God, all I see is blackness!”46

Also significant, are described other encounters not mentioned in the Qur’an, and it demonstrates their long lifespan:

The Prophet said to the jinni: “This is the stride of a jinni, as well as the tone of his voice!” The jinni replied: “My name is Hamah ibn Laqqis ibn Iblis.” The Prophet said: “Only two generations separate you from him [Iblis].” He replied: “True.” The Prophet asked: “How long have you lived?” The jinni replied: “Almost all of time. I was a small boy when Abel was killed. I believed in Noah and repented at his hands after I stubbornly refused to submit to his call, until he wept and wept. I am indeed a repentant—God keep me from being among the ignorant! I met the prophet Hud and believed in his call. I met Abraham, and I was with him when he was thrown in the fire. I was with Joseph, too, when his brothers hurled him into the well—I preceded him to its bottom. I met the prophet Shu‘ayb, and Moses and Jesus the son of Mary, who told me: ‘If you meet Muhammad, tell him Jesus salutes thee!’ Now I’ve delivered his message to you, and I believe in you.” The Prophet said: “What is your desire, O Hamah?” He said: “Moses taught me the Torah, Jesus the Gospels, can you teach me the Qur’an?” So the Prophet taught him the Qur’an.50

The chapter is concluded with the scholarly debates on whether or not the Prophet could see or only hear the jinn. It was debated also whether the Greeks and Romans could see their daemons or genii. With the onset of Islam, the heavens were closed off and inaccessible to the jinn for the traditional divination practices, and many jinn also chose to embrace Islam, while others did not. She closes the chapter with the following paragraph:

It is in this context the Qur’anic chapter “al-jinn” occupies a special place in the heart of Islam, inasmuch as it asserts the submission of spiritual entities, the jinn, to God. This Qur’anic chapter is the prime example of how the “Word of God” is spread in a multiplicity of realms and is understood among intelligences beyond our human sphere. The Prophet mentioned its importance in these terms, “He who reads surat al-Jinn (the Qur’anic chapter of the jinn), his reward from God will be as large as if he had freed a number of slaves equal to the number of jinn who believed in me as well as to the number of the jinn who disbelieved in me.”59

5. Magic, Possession, Diseases, and the Jinn

The fifth chapter describes the association between jinn, magic, possession, and disease. It takes a look at the term magic as it related to sorcery, and its use in the Near East. They held that demons were the cause of all diseases and could bring madness through possession. All the jinn who refused to convert to Islam were considered evil and feared intensely. It looks at the practices throughout Egypt, Babylon and Assyria, Greece, and pre-Islamic Arabia.

It then goes on to define “Islamic” magic and their healing techniques in classical Islam, such as the Qur’an as healing energy. There are examples of Sufi mystics being creative and putting verses of the Qur’an on paper and dropping it in a glass of water and then drinking the water to heal and strengthen with its power. Reciting the Qur’an is another practice said to ward off what they considered evil spirits. It discusses the divine names and their protection from evil. Next, it has a section explaining the magical power of Arabic letters.

The final part of the chapter looks at possession, epilepsy, and their healing in further depth. Mentioned are several cases of possession where the evil spirit, sometimes identified as a jinni, other times not, enters the human and has to be forced out by a religious authority. However, even with these religious approaches to disease, she stressed that the Islamic magic using material from the prophets and the Qur’an was not the only way to approach disease and warding off possessive, evil spirits and jinn, as they sought medical advancement of all kinds, including today’s modern medicine. She stresses that Islam sought to blend all forms of healing in a truly interdisciplinary way.


6. Jinn in Animal Shapes

In this chapter, we come to the topic of the spiritual elements of animals and their importance in various cultures and across traditions. Animals have also been known to have extrasensory perception or intuition about natural catastrophes. They have spiritual energies or elements of their nature that are often employed in a spiritual context. Many of the gods and goddesses across traditions have animal elements or are depicted as certain animals, sometimes several blended into one. The author walks us through the various animal elements in these traditions whether in the ancient Celtic tradition or the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Far East, and the Native Americans. She shows us that in the Babylonian religion, for example, jinn took on animal forms, some being benevolent and good:

Besides demons in the Babylonian religion, there were the good genies — protectors of humans — who also took on animal forms, especially that of huge bulls and lions.5 These good genies sat at the entrance of the underworld to protect humans from attacks by demons that manifested themselves in animal forms. Good genies and bad demons bellowed, roared, barked, and vociferated at each other. The ancient Babylonians firmly believed anyone who did not have a genie protecting him or her was exposed to a demon’s attacks.6 Generally speaking, the world for the Babylonians during this time was filled with good and bad spirits fighting each other in animal shapes.

Next, she begins to talk about the Jinn taking animal forms in the pre-Islamic period, as they believed that the jinn took on animal forms, or entered into them, for various reasons. Described here are the deer, who are said to be “the cattle of the jinn.” The ostrich is mentioned, and it was said to be like mounts for the jinn to ride upon. Black dogs are brought up as well, and this is a common association today that many associate with the jinn.

Next we have some descriptions of the more well-known account of jinn and demons being forced into subservience to King Solomon in the building of his temple:

In addition to dogs, deer, and ostriches, jinn are described as embodying the forms of many other animals such as foxes and porcupines21 as well as “the raven, the dove, the hedgehog, and the rabbit.”22 This is exemplified in the many stories that classical Islam weaved on the prophet Solomon. According to Qur’an 17:27, God made the jinn subservient to him. It is said a huge number of evil jinn in animal appearances were brought in front of him by order of God. The strangest description is the one written by geographer Zakaria ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (d. 1283). It illustrates with rich and vivid details how Gabriel called the jinn and the demons by command of God to obey his prophet Solomon, and how the jinn and satans streamed out of the caverns, mountains, hills, valleys, and deserts, saying: “Here we are at your service!” They were guided by the angels as cattle are guided by a shepherd, until they arrived in front of Solomon, obedient and humble. Solomon looked at their strange figures: some of them were white, others black, others yellow, and others blond. They had the forms of horses, mules, and lions with trunks, tails, claws, and horns.23

Al-Mas‘udi (d. 956) in turn added picturesque details to this sight. He offered an entire scenery of eerie beings with two faces, one in front and one in the rear, with their heads similar to birds’ heads. Some spoke like thunder; still others cried like birds, and had their mouths in their chests. Th ere was a nation among them that resembled insects, but had bulky bodies and horns on their heads. Others resembled flying snakes and yet had many feet and hands. It was believed these beings worked day and night at Solomon’s court.24

The next section looks at serpents as the embodiment for spirits in many religious traditions, like the Hebrews, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and so on. Next, the author looks at serpents and their relation to jinn, and also in relation to Iblis. Though the Qur’an does not mention Iblis to be a serpent or connected to the serpent, this link was produced, often like the serpent that whispered to Adam in the Garden of Eden account.

She concludes the chapter with several paragraphs, one reminding us that even the evil jinn could be redeemed at any time and subdue themselves to God:

Despite hiding in animal shapes to trick humans, people believed evil jinn could forsake their wickedness at any time and become good Muslims, as in the story of Abu-Hadraj. This freedom of choice means, from an Islamic perspective, there is no evil jinni steeped forever in his evil, although a demon will always be evil. Even ghouls (kinds of jinn) could turn into worshipers of God at any moment.41 Islamic medieval literature reports many stories of malevolent ghouls that were subdued and pacified by the Word of God.

I also find some of her final paragraphs in this chapter moving enough to repeat here:

To survive, humans need to be aware of all forms of life in the cosmos, respect them, protect them, and more important, think about their own human nature through them. After all, are not humans the vice-regents of God on Earth, as Islam stipulates? As such, they are supposed to be just and empathetic toward every living being as well as toward nature that should not be exploited and destroyed.

The interconnectedness of all living beings is epitomized in the Arabic term al-hayawan, which refers to animals as well as to all forms of energy, all living beings. Arabic lexicography defines it as “all the created species. It is life itself.”

7. Love Between Humans and Jinn

This chapter I find to be one of the most interesting and perplexing of the entire book, love and romance that occurs between humans and jinn. Stories of love affairs and marriages between humans and jinn abound in pre-Islamic Arabia, sometimes a male jinni will fall in love with a human woman, or a jinniyah (female jinn) will sometimes fall in love with a male human. Even more unusual are the accounts of actual children being born from these unions, and the author shows that in classical Islam there were actually laws to outlaw these relations, but the legal framework was not an easy task:

Because of these beliefs, Muslim theologians were bound to lay down a set of conventions and a code of moral principles to prohibit marriages between the two intelligent species. The various religious schools concurred these marriages were unlawful. They agreed to strictly forbid them on the grounds humans and jinn belong to different species.6 Al-Suyuti (d. 1505) alleged the Prophet mentioned the illegality of these marriages on several occasions. He attributed to him the following Hadith: “The end of time will not come until the children of jinn multiply among you.”7 Many commentators on this prophetic saying maintained the Prophet was referring to the “illegitimate” progeny of jinn and humans. But despite this official ban, the majority of Muslims continued telling stories about marriages between the two species. Serious difficulties came up, especially when dealing with what was believed to be the offspring of these unions.

Religious experts had to provide a juridical and theological status to this progeny. They basically raised the question of identity: is a jinni or jinniyah a person? What does it mean to claim a human “contracted marriage” with a jinni or a jinniyah? Al-Shibli (d. 1368) recounted various anecdotes about humans and jinn intermarriages to make obvious marriages between humans and jinn occurred both before as well as during his time. He cited one of his friends, a jurist, who had been married to a jinniyah for three days when he was traveling with his father. Al-Shibli went to see him and heard the story from him directly, and substantiated it really did occur.8 Al-Shibli also reported some stories in which Muslim authorities specifically had forbidden unions with jinn, such as the following: “A man came to al-Hasan al-Basri [b. 642] and said to him: ‘A jinni wants to be engaged to one of our girls.’ Al-Hasan said to him: ‘Do not marry her to him and do not honor him!’ Then the man went to another sheikh, surnamed Qatadah, and asked him the same. The latter repeated an identical injunction: ‘Do not marry her to him, and, if he comes to you, say to him: We beg you—if you are a Muslim jinni—to leave us alone and not hurt us!’”9

Many fictional accounts of these romances are also noted in The Arabian Nights. This was a popular set of Islamic folk tales that had many stories of jinn and their interaction with humans, which often included romance. Some stories are about male jinn who fall in love with a human woman, but some are malevolent and abduct the human and hold her captive, while other times the love story is of benevolence, such as the tale of “The Merchant and the Jinni,” where a female jinni (jinniyah) marries a man and the man is betrayed by his brother and thrown off a ship in the sea with his new jinniyah wife who is posing as a human, but she transforms into a jinniyah and carries him out of the sea to save his life. She tells him she is a jinniyah who believes in God and wanted to help him. In many tales regarding the love between a human man and a jinniyah, the jinniyah often takes the form of some bird or a swan, and often abruptly disappears on the man once he crosses certain boundaries or asks about tabooed subjects. The author brings us through many of these tales in further detail, such as The Tale of Janshah, The Tale of Hasan al-Basri, The Tale of Sayf al-Muluk and the Jinniyah Badi‘at al-Jamal, among others.

She concludes the chapter with the argument that there was almost no sexuality in these stories of love affairs between humans and jinn. I tend to disagree with this, seeing as though children are often produced in the relationships and love affairs, and I think the reason it is not explicitly described may be done more for modesty for the moral standards of Islamic society at that time. However, perhaps she is correct, it is hard to know, but she notes the intensity in which these love affairs occur:

This love is depicted as stronger than the love between two humans; it may be because of the strangeness of the spiritual partner and the curiosity otherness triggers in the human.

It is an uneven relation between a mortal and a spiritual entity in which the latter has always more operational power than the human who seems in most of our stories subjugated and infatuated at the same time.

8. Jinn Inspiring Poets

The final chapter of this book is about the jinn inspiring the poets of pre-Islam and in classical Islam. The jinn acts like a whisperer to the human heart to inspire the human when writing poetry, and many poets would say they get their inspiration from their personal jinn. The author looks back at rhymed prose done throughout writings left behind by the ancients such as the stories of the tragedy of the goddess Inanna and the Epic of Gilgamesh. She looks at some of the poetic inspiration of the ancient Greeks, how they often spoke of receiving their inspiration from their genii. She then takes a look at the poetic inspiration of pre-Islamic Arabia:

People in the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula likewise believed poets received their inspiration from a hidden source, from the invisible world of the jinn.5 The latter were thought to follow the poets and read out to them verses of majestic beauty. Arabs at that time honored their poets because their words resembled those of seers.

Next the author brings us through poetry in the onset of Islam and the Qur’an. In the beginnings of Islam, many pagan Arabians of that time dismissed Muhammed as a poet possessed by a jinn, as has been said earlier, and the Qur’an addresses that aspect in particular to rebuke the claim to say it was not poetical inspiration but a revelation through a vision with the Archangel Gabriel. There was also some agitation that occurred to the poetical inspiration of that time when the Qur’an and Islam became established, she writes:

The Qur’an replies to the Prophet’s opponents, and differentiates between poetical inspiration thought to come from the jinn and revelation bestowed upon Muhammad through the intermediacy of the angel Gabriel: “We have not taught him poetry; It is not seemly for him. It is only a Remembrance and a clear Qur’an” (Qur’an 36:69).12 Moreover, the Qur’an disparages the poets of pre-Islam who concoct things unrelated to reality, and pay heed only to their egos: “And the poets — the perverse follow them; Hast thou not seen how they wander in every valley and how they say things they do not do? Save those that believe, and do righteous deeds, and remember God [repeatedly], and help themselves after being wronged” (Qur’an 26:225–26).

There was a change to the poetry of that time with the advent of Islam, as many would reshape their poetry to reflect the teachings of the Qur’an and receive their inspiration directly from God. However, she shows that jinn inspiring poets persisted in Islam to some degree. Sometimes poets would have two jinni for poetic inspiration. She talks about how many would tell poets to reject their poetic inspiration from the jinn and only use their own minds. Also talked about here is the risk of having a jinn inspirer for poetry because of the tales of poets being abducted by the jinn and carried away to their kingdoms. Also, many of the jinn claimed their poetry was superior to that of humans. It is then asked how one can distinguish between the inspiration from the jinn and the inspiration they receive of their own accord, and it seems to blend into one, hard to distinguish. She brings up a quote from The Art of Chinese Poetry about the poet seeking a contemplative mind to capture the spirit of life in one’s poetry:

This last assertion simply means what we call jinn, Duende, Daemons, or Muse could come from inside the poet, if he/she listens in silence to the self. As I have tried to demonstrate throughout this book, and in this chapter in particular, the jinn could be hidden powers within the poet’s self and outside of him as well. The poet’s mind and imagination could create these spirits outside the self, making possible all kinds of interaction with them; he/she also could get them from where they lie dormant in the psyche, and slowly bring them to light.

Conclusion: The Sentience of Inside Out/Outside In

Amira El-Zein concludes the book with a small chapter underscoring the search to understand the concept of the jinn and their place in the universe. She writes beautifully on this and I want to share one of the paragraphs that really stands out to me:

The exploration of the jinn’s concept underscores that we and the universe are made from the same fabric. Each resembles the other. Most significantly, both are incessantly in contact. Like the human, the universe has a soul and is a living body. This is what our ancestors called “Anima Mundi,” or “the Soul of the world.” Both are endowed with intelligence. Plato (d. 347 bce) evoked in the Timaeus the universe as a living being, a vital force that embraces all other living entities, which by their nature are all linked.

Appendix: The Different Classes of the Jinn

Last but not least, we have an appendix that goes over the different classes of jinn, such as the Ghoul, the Hinn, the Shiqq, the Si’lat, the Nasnas, and the more well-known classes like the ‘Ifrit and the Marid mentioned in the Qur’an. She writes in more depth about each one of these, but she also points out the complexity and confusion in classifying the types of jinn, as many claimed different things about each class, and it becomes an elusive quest.


This book was truly enlightening, as it provided me great insight and deeper knowledge about a topic that I’ve been so drawn to over the years, the concept of jinn. Since much of the literature on the jinn is in Arabic, it is much more challenging to study this elusive topic for a Westerner. The author also added some great depth of understanding on not only the jinn, but on Islam as well. Unfortunately, in the West, it is harder for those who don’t study or practice Islam to get a fair understanding of this religion because so much ignorance and stereotyping taints its image. She is giving us a picture of what Islam is when those truly follow it according to its doctrine and with moral responsibility.

While I am not religious, I am very spiritual, and I am a monotheist, just as Islam is monotheistic, that there is but one Creator, one overarching intelligence that oversees all. I can appreciate many aspects of all the world religions, including Islam, and I have always been one to enjoy diversity of culture. I personally infuse elements of many of the various world religions into my spiritual path.

Even as a monotheist, I still believe there is much benefit in working with spirits and I felt a calling to work with jinn, after all, it is said that God asked the jinn to bow before Adam, as though the former would assist God’s new creation. I don’t see it as a rebuke to the One and Only God to empower oneself with the practice of magic and the spirit world, if anything, I would say it brings one closer to the fullness of the Creator. I would see assistance from jinn or spirits no different than assistance from humans. However, I would stress that working with the jinn needs to be done right, with the proper formulae and with the purest intentions, the proper respect, and self-discipline, approaching it slowly with patience, and most of all, I think one should only approach the jinn when one is truly called to them, from the heart, not as some curiosity. Working with jinn can be risky and quite dangerous without these foundations. Much of the literature on jinn magic is using dubious methods and it is probably wise to say that one should not approach the jinn who are not truly called to work with them. I was called to the path of jinn just as I was called to the Nightshade family of plants and my scorpion and mongoose animal totems. It was a calling from within, a voice from within that calls you to what you were meant to do, despite what anyone thinks or says, despite all the risks, misconceptions, superstitions, and so on.

As for Islamic literature, I am especially interested in the Sufi literature and what is called Mystical Islam. Ibn ‘Arabi, for example, wrote some truly enlightening literature in the Golden Age of Islam, and especially in Chapter 9 of the Futuhat al-Makkiyya : On the inner knowledge of spirits made of an igneous mixture, he discussed the jinn in further depth. However, he and many other Sufi writers have made a lot of great contributions to Philosophy and Cosmology from an Islamic standpoint, which are certainly worth a read.

Amira El-Zein’s book is one of the only quality books available to Westerners on the jinn. Most of the books available to us in the West are books that are trying to sell the paranormal aspects and most of the time it is focused on trying to portray the entire race of jinn as evil, which I think is very unfair. From my understanding thus far, the benevolence or malevolence of the jinn is exactly parallel to human beings. This will be so with any being given free will. They will follow divergent paths, just like us. I think this author was fair and balanced in her analysis compared to most of the literature on the jinn. In her conclusion, she reminds us that they too are a part of creation and can be redeemed to God and goodness at any time, exactly like humans. I can speak of my first-hand experience with jinn, who have been more kind to me than most humans. I know what its like to be demonized and seen as a misfit of society, perhaps that is why I am more willing to give these beings a chance. For doing so, I was greatly rewarded and shown that public opinion really means nothing, more so, it often gives us a false paradigm and misleads us into ignorance and superstition.

I would like to thank this author for her excellent contribution on the jinn. I have also read her dissertation on the jinn called “The evolution of the concept of the jinn” and this acts as a great supplement to the current work in review. Thanks to this author, I have been able to add a breadth of knowledge to what I already know of the jinn. Many of the so-called modern experts of the jinn seem to have very little understanding of Islam and the Qur’an, which is essential to its expertise. This book was an exceptional read, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to take a more in-depth study of the jinn.

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